Arizona Law Enforcement Charging Innocent Car Owners $2,000 To Reclaim Their Wrongfully-Seized Vehicles

from the a-victor-even-in-defeat dept

If you’d like some more evidence on how civil asset forfeiture has become legalized theft, you need only look at this investigative report by Curt Prendergast for Not only is it extremely easy for the government to claim assets are tied to criminal activity, but the obstacles placed in front of individuals to reclaim seized assets are numerous and expensive to navigate — sometimes outweighing the value of the items seized.

On top of that, even when the state loses, it still wins. Arizona residents who have seen their vehicles seized for extremely tenuous connections to criminal activity are still forced to pay an incredible amount of money to reclaim items the state has agreed to return to their owners.

The fortunes of a local woman took a disastrous turn when she loaned her car to her son so he could take her granddaughter to school.

Her son was arrested on suspicion of credit-card fraud in Oro Valley and police seized the woman’s orange 2005 Mini Cooper, which she said in court documents she needed to drive to her $14-an-hour job at Red Lobster.

She hired a lawyer — the court does not provide lawyers in civil matters — to challenge the seizure and subsequent forfeiture proceedings. Authorities agreed on July 7 to return her car, but first she had to pay $2,000 into the Pima County Anti-Racketeering Fund, with $1,500 going to Oro Valley police and $500 to the County Attorney’s Office.

The state is the only entity allowed to engage in racketeering, apparently. Someone has to make sure all of these agencies who have already penciled in expected seizures on theirs annual budgets can still hit their numbers. Even if the government withdraws its claim on an asset, every agency with its hand out still needs a cut of the bogus take.

This case isn’t an anomaly. It’s standard operating procedure in Arizona when the government decides to “return” a vehicle.

Attorney Rogers, who represented a man who loaned his 2002 BMW to a friend arrested for selling drugs, said the case was typical and ended with a compromise in which his client agreed to pay $1,500 to the multi-agency Counter Narcotics Alliance and $500 to the County Attorney’s Office, as well as $190 in storage and towing fees.

Officers seized a 2013 Toyota Corolla in August 2015 at an illegal marijuana grow site in Tucson. The owner of the car said he let his son, who was arrested at the grow site, use the car, but that he had no knowledge of the grow site. His son’s name was on the registration, but the father said his son did not pay for the car in any way.

Prosecutors agreed to return the car in February in exchange for $3,431 and $316 in storage and towing fees. The Counter Narcotics Alliance received $2,573 and the County Attorney’s Office received $858.

As can be ascertained by these stories, there’s no innocent third-party defense available to people whose vehicles have been used for criminal activity while not in their direct control. If you loan a vehicle to someone, you’re directly responsible for their actions while using it. The local district attorney claims — in comments to Prendergast — that there were no “innocent” parties here… or possibly ever. This ensures a steady flow of ~$2,000 payments by unfortunate car owners in exchange for the full release of their vehicle by the agency performing the seizure.

Not that there’s any shortage of seized vehicles. The county attorney’s annual list of “significant accomplishments” always includes the dollar amount of seized assets, as though the abuse of a process meant to deter criminal activity still means something when it’s used to separate innocent car owners from their vehicles. Presumably this dollar amount also includes payments resulting from the government’s relinquishment of a person’s vehicle — but not its apparent entitlement to a hefty payout in exchange for returning belongings to their rightful owners.

Prendergast notes that the attorney’s office tracks every vehicle it seizes. It’s not quite as enthusiastic about providing information on the number of vehicles it’s returned to owners at $2,000/per.

There’s a reason the forfeiture process is largely opaque. It does law enforcement agencies no favors when citizens find out they’re viewed more as revenue streams than people with rights and property.

[W]hat began as a means to a laudable end has, in many instances, become the end itself, where law enforcement authorities appear to focus more on forfeiting money and property than catching and convicting criminals. The reason for this is the perverse profit incentive built into civil forfeiture law: Much, if not all, of the proceeds of successful forfeiture cases are retained by the agencies that do the initial seizing, providing them with a funding mechanism that is totally outside the normal legislative appropriations and oversight process. Police and sheriff’s departments and prosecutors’ offices often end up having a significant budgetary stake in the outcome of forfeiture cases and of the process in general. Indeed, a deputy sheriff in Kane County, Illinois, wrote in a training book that “[a]ll of our home towns are sitting on a tax-liberating gold mine.”

And what a gold mine it is. When the government can cushion its losses with a $2,000 fees, there’s nothing discouraging law enforcement agencies from seizing everything they can get their hands on, no matter how tenuous the connection to criminal activity.

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Comments on “Arizona Law Enforcement Charging Innocent Car Owners $2,000 To Reclaim Their Wrongfully-Seized Vehicles”

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Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Repeat after me...

Something I wonder — does the Arizona asset forfeiture law require that the court action to seize property be brought by a government official? Does the Arizona constitution allow for laws that require unequal rights like that? Most state constitutions (as well as the federal constitution) render any statute that creates a less privileged class null and void — witness what happened recently to a law protecting children from sexual predators in Ohio.

ANY violation of rights by government agents that you can sue in federal court for and win under Title 42, Section 1983 of the US Code is ALSO a criminal act under Title 18, Sections 241 & 242. If a police department has lost a 42 USC 1983 lawsuit, then they have also committed crimes — especially if the officer(s) who violated rights are still employed by the department!

If all of the above is true, why not try suing such a police department? Not the officers but the building, vehicles, etc? Under asset forfeiture laws, that building and all the equipment in and around it have been used to commit crimes.

It would be hilarious if someone did manage to seize all of that, take custody of that — and even if the police won on appeal, charge $2000 per car, $200 per gun and $10000 for the building for their return, citing administrative fees!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Repeat after me...

“Or is the government going to start saying that property that is stolen and then used in what they claim is criminal activity now also eligible for civil forfeiture?”

Already happened a few times but the cases are not on line when I tried to find them. I did find this little ditty:

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Repeat after me...

–Yes, officer. The car was stolen. Thank you for recovering my stolen property.

That won’t help to avoid paying to get it back.
I’ve had two cars stolen, they were eventually recovered by police. Both times I had to pay towing and impound fees.

One time they kept the car a few days so they could gather evidence from it, I even had to pay impound fees for those days.

DannyB (profile) says:

This creates all the right incentives

All the right incentives for police to wrongfully seize as many vehicles as possible, as often as possible.


A for-profit prison system will guarantee:
* arrests are made even when unnecessary (so the prison makes money holding someone innocent)
* more ordinary things become criminal offenses
* an education system that turns out a steady stream of some percentage of poorly educated people, unable to get good jobs, more likely to commit crimes, and end up in profitable prisons.

Hey, here’s an idea!
Police officers should be able to randomly require people to get a blood test at a DUI checkpoint. If you want expedited service so you can be proven innocent and be on your way, you can pay a fee to expedite.

I bet we could find all sorts of new profit centers based on law enforcement and the judicial system. It’s the best new money making idea since red light cameras and shortening the length of the yellow light.

Maybe law enforcement and the judicial system need to operate more like a business. Coming soon . . . shareholders.

Creating all the wrong incentives

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: This creates all the right incentives

It is also creating incentives for people to shoot Police Officers.

Anyone thinking that the BLM problem is ONLY from police shooting people would be mistaken. The police shooting people just so happens to have been the straw that broke the camels back and since a lot of people including the BLM movement believes in the eye for an eye principal we are only going to see more unrest from Citizens and officers will see less and less support from “The People” they “LORD” over.

The police are not just abusing their power, they are inviting insurrection with the full support of judges, prosecutors, and legislators everywhere!

Synergy Waffle (profile) says:

Re: Re: This creates all the right incentives

As a side note, and just to be clear, the Black Lives Matter movement is NOT based on the premise of “an eye for an eye”. People within BLM, as with any other group of people, may take that viewpoint or resort to violence, but they are not indicative of the values or beliefs of the group as a whole. BLM exists as a means for awareness, education, and rectification, not retaliation.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: This creates all the right incentives

There are two problems with your statement about BLM.

The first is that every movement has splinter factions and fellow travelers. The core movement WILL be blames for anything those sub-groups do, even if the core movement had no idea they were planning their own actions.

The second problem is that BLM has misidentified the core issue because they are fixated on race. Some of them (mostly the splinter groups and fellow travelers I mentioned above) are so fixated that they deliberately exclude non-blacks from their protests. But by making it about race like that, they ignore the fact that police are out of control and shooting EVERYONE. Native Americans get abused by police even more than blacks do — but the BLM movement doesn’t care much about anyone but blacks.

The problem isn’t that the police are shooting black people too often, the problem is that they are shooting EVERYONE too often. Red lives (to continue the racist narrative) matter too and are even worse off than black lives, but the BLM movement focuses solely on black people.

By making it about race, BLM has simultaneously alienated natural allies, obscured the core issue (that police are shooting EVERYONE too much) and divided we the people, making us easier to conquer.

Synergy Waffle (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 This creates all the right incentives

I agree with you on your splinter faction point. The group as a whole will be blamed for the actions of a few. It’s the same reason that Islam is vilified and blamed for acts of terrorism in the US.

That being said, I do have to disagree with you on your second point. While I agree that the police are out of control and shooting everybody, the issues that BLM is doing its best to draw attention to have existed since before the founding of the US. Black people are disproportionately more likely to be shot, abused, overlooked, disregarded, and imprisoned than nearly any other minority group. This is a huge problem that goes overlooked by far, far too many people.

In a way, the name of the movement is unfortunately misleading. Many people have expressed concern that people mistake “Black Lives Matter” to mean “ONLY Black Lives Matter”. In truth, BLM would perhaps be more appropriately named “Black Lives Matter Too”; while its focus is on black people, it’s not intended to make people focus on the issues of only one race to the exclusion of all others.

If we’re talking about abuse in general, I would be remiss to leave the Latino and Native American communities unmentioned. Both are incredibly underrepresented and much more likely to be imprisoned, harassed, and brutalized than Caucasians. In fact, minority groups as a whole are far more frequently the targets of abuse than their Caucasian counterparts. Many black people hold the view that Native Americans have it the worst out of anyone; while other minorities have faced decades of slavery and/or wholesale slaughter, nothing really comes close to the blatant government-sanctioned genocide of and ongoing disregard for the Native American people.

Again, BLM exists to draw attention to the disproportionate amount of abuse perpetrated towards black people specifically. It is not intended to be exclusionary; it has a narrow focus so as not to spread its resources or message too thinly to be effective. So far it has brought some issues to the forefront of conversation that have been ignored or glossed over for far too long.

That One Guy (profile) says:

"And what are you going to do about it?"

Authorities agreed on July 7 to return her car, but first she had to pay $2,000 into the Pima County Anti-Racketeering Fund, with $1,500 going to Oro Valley police and $500 to the County Attorney’s Office.

Yeah, at this point I’d say it’s clear they’re not even pretending to be any different from organized crime, to the point that I can only assume that calling it the ‘anti-racketeering fund’ is sick humor on their part, a way to mock the public by calling it the exact opposite of what everyone knows it is.

“That’s a nice car you’ve got there, be a shame if it were to be put up for auction to buy a new tv for our break-room. Now if you want to see it again better break out that wallet and start counting. Don’t worry, we’ll tell you once you hand over enough.”

It’s no wonder they’ve given up on earning actual respect and fallen back to ‘respect’ based upon fear, real respect isn’t nearly as profitable nor as fun.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

That is correct, it was never a matter of of IF.

Government will always work to become corrupt, it is natural for government to move towards it. Governments forget that “The People” are the country/nation, and “The People” forget that government is composed of people that can never be trusted because only the corrupt have the desire to rule over others!

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: monopoly

Makes me wonder — where in the anti-racketeering laws is the government exemption from those laws? If the only reason they aren’t being slammed with the RICO Act is that those who should be bringing it are corrupt and/or the people doing the racketeering, what do you do then if you want justice?

“When peaceful revolution becomes impossible, violent revolution becomes inevitable.” — President John F. Kennedy

It’s equally true for justice as it is for revolution.

Anonymous Coward says:

They just don't care about peoples lives

$2000 + lawyer expenses would make life very difficult for me not to say someone who makes $14 per hour.
It would probably ruin any chance of positive credit rating at the bank and it would be several months (if not years) before it is paid in full.
These people can’t seem to get into their thick heads how much they are screwing over people when they decide these things.
And here I am not even taking in account the ridiculousness of the whole asset forfiture racket.
How is this not evil? How can people read this and not get a sick feeling when the system that supposedly serves us is used like this.

Anonymous Coward says:

So cops aren’t responsible for knowing the law, but citizens are responsible for their property even when they aren’t in possession of it?

So a cop who doesn’t know the law can seize your property and you will be out thousands of dollars to just get it back.

Police rule: With no responsibility comes great power.
Citizen rule: With no power comes great responsibility.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s actually worse than that.

Citizens are expected to be sufficiently knowledgeable about the law to avoid breaking it, solely on the basis of mandatory schooling that every citizen receives.

Professionals (in any field) are further expected to know all the laws and regulations that govern their profession.

In either above case, ignorance of the law is not an excuse.

Police cannot become police without having graduated from that mandatory education every citizen gets. Almost all (but not quite all) police departments require additional education to become a police officer — either a 2-year college degree in a relevant field or graduation from a police academy. By any standard, most police officers have much greater training in the law than any ordinary citizen other than a lawyer.

But despite the fact that they have AT LEAST the same legal training every citizen does, they are excused from having to know anything about the law by the corrupt courts — usually on the theory that current laws are too complex for non-lawyers to know much about!

This seems to me to create unequal enforcement of the law — something almost every state constitution (and absolutely the federal constitution) prohibit to the extent a law can be struck down by the courts for it. If those with less education in the law are held to a greater standard of obedience to that law than those who are more trained in the law, it cannot create anything else but unequal enforcement of that law!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Cool, another person who is able to see the future and/or see into people’s minds to know when they’re hiding stuff.

It’s amazing how many of you seem to hang out in comment sections like TD’s, I would have thought you’d be busy winning lotteries and/or preventing major disasters, but who am I to judge the priorities of someone who can see the future I suppose.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Maybe it would be a great idea (for cops) to not act like Judge Dredd?

In my dreams, I remember a day when people could expect their day in in court, face their accuser and receive a fair trial ….. sad such a place never existed and never will.

Best idea? Don’t be an idiot by supporting these corrupt assholes, making excuses and bothering others with rationalizations for inexcusable behavior.

This slow motion train wreck is best viewed in high resolution with plenty of pop corn and adult beverages. Hopefully your HDTV is not guilty of any crimes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I was wondering about those signs on some peoples forehead that said things like “drugdealer”, “thief” and murderer meant. /Sarcasm

Are you serious? Don’t befriend criminals and don’t raise criminals? Is it that black and white to you who is and who isn’t a criminal?
Right now there is probably some guy coming home to his wife and 2 kids who he treats with respect and love. During dinner he will tell his wife about this great joke his coworker told him at his boring salesman job. In reality this man has just spent his afternoon torturing and killing a teenager.
There is one thing that is pretty consistant in regards to criminals family and friends: Many times they can’t believe it because he/she was such a nice guy/woman.

The funny thing is that the biggest criminals in our society are probably people in power. How many people have CEO’s who wanted their bonus as large as possible, killed or hurt? How many have leaders of countries or law enforcement?
In normal circumstances their behaviour would be a long jail sentence, but instead it is many times left with “Oh the guy quit his job. I guess we cannot hold him accountable anymore”. That is the cases where it even gets spotted and they can’t use the thousand other ways to get out of any repocussions it should have had. Often these people are hired in equally high positions some other place.

So don’t raise a CEO, politician or someone in law enforcement. That seems to carry a much higher chance of criminality.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Simply official oppression from the courts on down

Depends on the state. Sometimes it’s a misdemeanor.

What I’d love to try is to sue the state (not the state officials) for asset forfeiture.

Any official organization or individual official you can file a federal civil rights lawsuit against and win (under 42 USC 1983) has also violated 18 USC 241 or 242, which are CRIMINAL law violations. Any organization’s equipment (cars, guns, real estate) that has been used to commit crimes is guilty under asset forfeiture laws and subject to seizure accordingly.

Bonus points if the forfeiture is overturned on appeal, and you charge ‘administrative’ fees for the return of the property. $2000 per car, $200 per gun, $10000 per building…that sounds about right.

John says:

Where is the Responsibility

Just to play devil’s advocate, if I loaned a baseball bat to a friend, and he used it to threaten (or beat) someone, even though the bat was not his, it would be locked up in evidence, and it would be unlikely I would ever see it again. Do I hold the police responsible? No, I hold my friend responsible. I would be suing the friend for the costs of getting my stuff back, not the police. I like my friends, so I never loan out anything I expect back so I don’t get in this type of situation.

Now if the friend is wrongly accused, that is a different story.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Where is the Responsibility

Bad analogy. It’s more like this: You lend your friend your baseball bat and he’s stopped by the cops in an illegal Stop-n-Fisk because he’s the wrong color. They find some baking soda in his pants pocket that the field test says is cocaine, so they arrest him and confiscate your bat because reasons. I don’t get mad at the friend, I get mad at the Chief of Police and City Council who have turned the city into a den of thieves to fund their corruption.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Once again Masnick expects law enforcement to have a ridiculous amount of knowledge about law by his piratey standards.

If law enforcement (read that title again…LAW enforcement) can’t be expected to know the laws they’re enforcing (and once again “law” is part of their job title – that’s kinda significant), why should citizens (who don’t have the word “law” anywhere in their job description) be expected to know? (given it’s such a ridiculous amount of knowledge and all…your words…bolded in case your cognitive dissonance kicks in)

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re:

No, Mike Masnick expects the police to have the same level of knowledge about the law that all citizens are REQUIRED to have. Remember, they can’t become a police officer without being a citizen.

Citizens are expected to know enough about the law to avoid breaking it, just from graduating from mandatory education. If they try to claim ignorance of the law in court, the court rejects their claim on that basis. Even dropouts are held to that standard.

Police, being citizens and having had to graduate from mandatory education to even apply to become police, should be held to that standard of knowledge of the law. But they aren’t. Many police officers have college degrees in law-enforcement related fields or have graduated from a police academy and have MUCH more knowledge of the law than most citizens (aside from lawyers and judges) and are STILL allowed to use ignorance of the law as an excuse in court.

So, Whatever, I’ll ask you this: Why does it make sense in your world for police — who are paid to enforce the law — are not required to be at least as educated in those laws than ordinary citizens?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

i think i’ll call the story the ransom of red ford.

To be more realistic…

The Ransom of Red Chief” by O. Henry

It looked like a good thing: but wait till I tell you. We were down South, in Alabama–Bill Driscoll and myself-when this kidnapping idea struck us. It was, as Bill afterward expressed it, ‘during a moment of temporary mental apparition’; but we didn’t find that out till later. . . .

(Short story continues. First published in The Saturday Evening Post, 1907)



Direct adaptations of “The Ransom of Red Chief” include the 1952 television movie . . .

More generally, the concept of a hostage becoming too much for their captors to bear has become a familiar cultural trope, used in movies such as . . .

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

You’re welcome.

It’s been so long that I can’t remember whether that one was actually assigned reading for one of my classes in either high school or college… or if it was just included in one of my English class reading anthologies.

Either way, I’m pretty sure that I did not have to write a paper on it, or I’d probably recall more clearly.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Get pulled over, fear for loss of car, shoot first out of fear?

If you phrase it like that, you are effectively confessing to at least attempted second degree murder.

Don’t do that.

Instead, cite the fact that you are 60 times more likely to be killed by police than foreign terrorists, talk about all the stories/videos you’ve seen of police drawing their guns and murdering people for no good reason and getting away with it. Claim you felt certain your life was about to end and that rationally fearing for your life, you felt you had no choice if you ever wanted to see your family again. Breaking down in tears on the stand helps too.

After all, if foreign terrorism justifies extra-judicial killing of US citizens, bombing of cities and generally burning the middle east to the ground, then surely being confronted with something 60 times more dangerous to you than a terrorist justifies self defense!

Anonymous Coward says:

I get that asset forfeiture has created perverse incentives to legalise theft by police forces, and I don’t take issue with your stance on this, but if asset forfeiture is naively gotten rid of, what’s to stop Drug Dealer Bob from only using Innocent Uncle Dave’s car for all of his drug runs?

I suppose, to answer my own question, that if the police can’t prove Innocent Uncle Dave’s knowledge of and complicity in Drug Dealer Bob’s drug dealing, then Innocent Uncle Dave is innocent and gets to keep his car, and that’s all well and good…

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Our legal system was founded on the idea that it is better than 100 guilty men go free than one innocent man be wrongly convicted.

All we’re asking is that we be treated by that legal system as it is REQUIRED BY LAW to treat us. The problem is, corruption is so systemic that they almost never do that, yet consistently get away with breaking the law. Because reasons.

Byrne Berggren (profile) says:

Civil forfeiture is and has always been, and always will be illegal according to the U.S. Constitution. Just because some bureaucrat or politician says it’s legal does not make it so. The police community is “aghast” at why they are shown no respect nationwide… well, when you, who are sworn to protect and serve, are more of a threat to me than the local drug dealer, a threat to my personal liberties and Constitutionally guaranteed right of protection, you become deserving of NONE of my respect.

You see people harping about the 2nd amendment and how it exists so individuals can protect themselves against criminals…. YOU ARE WRONG. The 2nd amendment is there so the citizens can protect themselves against a tyrannical government and when actions like wholesale robbery from the police are condoned and encouraged by our government, that to me sir, is the textbook definition of a Tyrannical government.

A recent Washington Post investigation revealed that since 2001, law enforcement seized cash worth more than $2.5 billion from motorists and others without first obtaining search warrants or indictments, and that in 80 percent of those cases, the property owners were never charged with crimes.

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